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Angola returnees hit by serious funding shortfall

JOHANNESBURG - An acute funding shortage is seriously hampering international efforts to resettle tens of thousands of people who fled their homes in Angola during the long civil war, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.

WFP has received only US$45 million or 18 percent of its appeal for US$253 million to feed 1.4 million returning refugees and displaced people until the end of 2005. This has forced the agency to slash cereal rations by 50 percent. Unless there are immediate new donations, no cereals at all will be distributed in September, which is when the lean season starts.

"The funding shortage is seriously undermining the resettlement process and reducing the incentive for people to return to their areas of origin," said Sonsoles Ruedas, WFP Deputy Country Director for Angola.

"Many face unimaginable misery when they return home. Clean drinking water from protected sources is rare, there are very few schools or health clinics and electricity remains only a dream in vast areas of the country. Now there is also very little food, which is essential if the repatriation process is to be successful," Ruedas added.

WFP estimates that it will need a minimum of US$81.5 million for the remainder of this year to feed nearly 1.4 million Angolans who have already returned to their homes or are scheduled to be repatriated from Zambia, Namibia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). There are still an estimated 166,000 Angolans in neighbouring countries, some of whom have been living in refugee camps for decades.

Under a joint programme with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), WFP is planning to assist up to 10,000 Angolans in Namibia and some 40,000 in Zambia to return home this year, including many who will return by air. An additional 19,000 Angolans will also be repatriated from the DRC.

Due to the seasonal rainfall, repatriations to Angola can only take place between June and October. It is therefore even more crucial that the international community steps forward now with funding to use this limited window of opportunity.

"We only have a few precious months to help those wishing to return home. For those people who have already returned, it's going to be a battle to eke out an existence during the rainy season without assistance," Ruedas said. "I really don't know how they are going to survive."

Less than five percent of all arable land is cultivated in Angola because of a combination of landmines, and lack of seeds, fertilizer and draught animals. However, cereal production is beginning to improve despite the fact that many people lost their assets due to the war.

According to the latest Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission, conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization and WFP, the Angolan agricultural sector employs nearly 60 percent of the workforce but contributes only six percent to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is in stark contrast to the oil sector, which generates nearly 60 percent of the country's GDP and accounts for nearly all exports.

"Agricultural production needs to be increased as a priority," Ruedas said. "This is the only way people are going to be able to meet their longer-term food needs, but it is going to require investment, perseverance and commitment by all players."

The assessment also forecasts that Angola will require about 820,000 metric tons of imported cereals in 2004/5, of which about 642,000 tons are expected to be commercial imports and 178,000 tons emergency food aid.

In addition to immediate funding needs for food, WFP also urgently requires donations to continue operating the country's humanitarian air service. This currently flies to nine of Angola's 18 provinces, carrying about 3,000 aid workers a month who would otherwise have to spend days travelling along badly-damaged and landmine-lined roads. Funding for this operation runs out at the end of September.

To date, major donors to WFP's operations in Angola have been USA (US$26 million), Japan (US$3.8 million), France (US$2.2 million), Canada (US$1.8 million), Germany (US$1.2 million), Norway (US$1 million), Switzerland (US$880,000), Finland (US$730,000), and others.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.

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